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I know (으)로 has many meanings, one of which means "as". For example:

그는 신문사 특파원으로 서울에 와 있습니다: He is in Seoul as a correspondent for a newspaper

and (으)로서 also means "as". For example:

서울은 한국의 수도로서 정치,경제,문화 등 여러 기능의 중심지이다: As the capital of Korea, Seoul is the center of various functions such as politics, economy, and culture.

So what is the difference between (으)로 and (으)로서 ? Are they ever interchangeable?

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As far as I know, there is no difference. 으로 in the first example is just a shortened form of 으로서. 으로 seems to be much more common than 으로서 these days.

(으)로서 is defined in the dictionary as "지위나 신분 또는 자격을 나타내는 격 조사". The first example is clearly using 으로 to indicate 자격 (like "as"). The second one is not as obvious as the first one, but it can be considered 자격 in the broad sense. (으)로서 is often used in this kind of somewhat loose sense to connect two clauses in formal writing.

Here are examples from ko.wikipedia.org. You could use 으로서 and 로서 just as well.

남극(영어: Antarctica, 南極)은 지구의 최남단의 대륙으로, 한가운데 남극점이 있다.

오세아니아(영어: Oceania)는 지구의 지역 중 하나 태평양의 육지와 섬 지역을 말한다.

In the above examples, the sense of "as" is so weak that in English translation, you might just connect the two parts with "and" or a relative pronoun. (으)로서 effectively just functions like a neutral conjunctive in them.

In other cases, (으)로서 can have a strong sense of "as".

자식으로서 마땅히 할 일 (from 표준국어대사전)

(으)로서 in the Wikipedia examples and this last sentence appear to be quite different in meaning and function, but I think it's a case of grammar construct diverging widely in actual use. I looked for dictionary listings that put these two cases under different headings but couldn't find any. So I tentatively conclude they are different usages of the same one.

Whether it is the same one or not, I would say the important thing is to be able to understand and use it.

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  • Recalling from the last example by @user591415 , I would add that the shortened and general form "-로" is less preferred when it can be confused as qualifying a verb. As an extreme case, suppose at the restaurant we hear "저는 주방장으로 국을 끓였습니다." The chef had better make it clear that the soup is not made "from" themself.
    – j824h
    Oct 31, 2021 at 2:30

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